International Polar Bear Day

I just returned home two days ago from an incredible expedition workshop to the South Island of New Zealand and am still catching up on email and office work as well as drafting a blog post on our experiences in the South Island. However, I wanted to quickly acknowledge that today is actually International Polar Bear Day and that we all need to do our bit to reduce greenhouse emissions to help protect and preserve the environment for the world’s largest land carnivore – The miraculous Polar Bear. On International Polar Bear Day—or starting any day you choose—adjust your thermostat a few degrees (up or down, depending on where you live or the season) to show your commitment to greenhouse gas reductions. Make every day a Polar Bear Day by keeping your thermostat adjusted, insulating your home, or taking other steps to save energy. And if you need an added incentive then remember its cheaper to put on a sweater than crank up the heating. 

New Zealand South Island Experience and Victoria’s Great Ocean Road

In a few short days I am heading back to New Zealand for a workshop tour of the magnificent South Island with my friend Phillip Bartlett and our group of participants. The South Island of New Zealand is an incredible part of the world and boasts spectacular mountain alps which run down the spine of this amazing country. These mountains plunge almost straight into the sea on both sides of the country. It is the only place in the world I know of where alpine mountains plunge straight into temperate forest that directly hugs such a rugged and wild coastline. I was in the South Island of New Zealand only a few weeks ago completing a week long commercial assignment and I very pleased to be returning again so soon. On this trip we will be circumnavigating the South Island and taking in the best of its many iconic locations as well as visiting some of its hidden treasures and lesser known areas. We will be chartering a helicopter with doors removed for photography over the alps and enjoying a private boat charter for playful Dusky Dolphins and Sea Lions off the coast of Kaikoura. If you want to get an idea of what this tour is going to be like be sure to watch the short tester video below.

Packing for this trip is somewhat of a challenge for me as I am quite keen to take my newly acquired Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII Lens (why own it if you don’t intend to carry it) as well as the 200-400mm F4L Lens – for both Sea Lions, Dusky Dolphins and Albatross in and around Kaikoura. I plan to carry these two lenses to both Iceland and Namibia in March this year so this trip to New Zealand is an ideal opportunity to see how they travel together on international flights. These two lenses add up to a not insignificant amount of weight, but perhaps of more immediate concern is the sheer bulk and space they require inside the camera bag. With both of these lenses in my Gura Gear camera bags there is little room for much else. Nevertheless it never ceases to amaze me just how much gear can be squeezed into the Bataflae 32L bag. So, after some trial packing I will be carrying the following on this trip: (I know this is a ridiculous amount of equipment but I am a person who prefers to carry it and not need it rather than need it and not have it.) Just as a side addendum to this; I used to think I carried a lot of equipment, but then I worked with a video guy last year in the Arctic who redefined what it meant to carry a lot of gear!)

Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Camera Bag

  • Canon EOS 1DX
  • Canon EOS 1DS MKIII
  • Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII (Lens hood goes in the checked luggage bag)
  • Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS MKII
  • Canon 24-70mm F2.8L MKII
  • Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE MKII
  • Canon 17mm F4L TSE
  • Canon 1.4 TC MKIII
  • LEE Filter System including Graduated ND filters and Polariser
  • Cable Release and other accessories

Gura Gear Chobe Camera Bag

  • 15″ MacBook Pro, back-up hard drive, card reader and accessories
  • Canon 200-400mm F4L IS with inbuilt 1.4 TC (incredibly this does fit in the Chobe!)

North Face Rolling Thunder Duffle *

  • Clothes and Personal Items
  • Really Right Stuff Tripod, BallHead and Jobu Gimbal Mount

* I really like the North Face Rolling Thunder Duffle as a travel bag. It is extraordinarily tough and copes very well with the rigours and violence that checked luggage is exposed to (I really have no idea what baggage handlers do behind the scenes but I am sure it involves some sort of contact sport with people’s luggage). The only downside to this bag is it weighs eleven pounds or five kilograms empty. On flights with a 20 kilogram luggage limit that is one quarter of the limit before you start putting things like clothes in it. Thankfully many of the airlines I travel with these days have more reasonable 25 to 30 kilogram luggage limits and I can usually get close enough to these limits to avoid excess luggage charges.

Victoria – The Great Ocean Road

Just before I depart for New Zealand later this week I will be leading a private three day trip down Victoria’s spectacular Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road is home to some iconic Victorian scenery including the Twelve Apostles, London Bridge, The Wreck Coast and more. It has been nearly a year since I last photographed this part of Victoria and I am looking forward to spending a few days in the field in my home state and sharing these amazing locations with my first time visitors. I am offering further one-on-one private workshops here in Victoria by appointment and based around my existing travel schedule both this year and next for anyone who would like to experience the best of this part of Victoria. Please contact me to discuss timing, cost and availability if you are coming to Australia in the near future.

A Polar Photography Experience Video Interview and Outtakes

Late last year I released a short movie I produced in conjunction with Untitled Film Works in the Arctic on what it was like to travel on a dedicated photographic expedition to the Polar regions – A Joshua Holko Photography Polar Experience Video. This video was a huge amount of fun to produce and work on with the crew from Untitled Film works. During the filming we were fortunate to experience and capture some truly spectacular sights including an incredible free standing iceberg collapse amongst some incredible landscape and wildlife experiences. The video was shot on a combination of a RED Epic Cinema Camera and a couple of Canon 1DC 4K Cinema Cameras. Audio for the film was recorded separately by a dedicated sound person. The entire movie was shot over a two week period in the Arctic using our ship ‘Polar Pioneer’ as a base of operations. We departed from Iceland in August and sailed across the Denmark Strait to Greenland where we explored the many fjords before we sailed across to Svalbard and docked in Longyearbyen. If you have not seen the movie click on the image below to watch it in full high definition.

One of the really enjoyable things for me during the production was the video interview we shot high in the Arctic near the calving face of one of Svalbard’s glaciers. The full interview includes all of the final cut footage included in the film as well as all of the outtakes, stumbles and slips that are a part of video production and interviews. The full unedited interview is included below. Enjoy – And remember its outtakes as well!Equipment for this Project

Since the release of this video I have had a few emails asking me specifically what equipment was used to produce this film. So I am including below a list of hardware we took to the Arctic and utilised for the production of this movie.  All of the editing and post production work was completed by Untitled Film Works at their studio in Sydney and a number of different software programs were used depending on wether the footage in question was shot with the RED Epic or the Canon 1DC cameras.  The RED Epic RAW footage requires different grading to the motion jpeg produced in the Canon 1DC cameras and so it was necessary to process them separately before combing the footage in the final edit. The entire project was however shot in 4K resolution and much of it was also shot in very high frame rate on the RED Epic.

Camera for this project included:

  • Red Epic 5K Cinema Camera for high frame rate slow motion footage in 4k resolution
  • Canon 1DC 4K Cinema Cameras x 2
  • Canon 1DX Camera (behind the scenes)
  • Canon 5D MK3 Cameras x 2 (behind the scenes)
  • Several Go Pro Cameras were also used for filming but none of the footage was included in the final cut

Lenses for this project included:

  • Sigma 15mm Fisheye
  • Canon 17mm F4L TSE
  • Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE
  • Canon 24-70mm F2.8L MKII
  • Canon 70-200mm F.27L IS MKII
  • Canon 200-400mm F4L IS with inbuilt 1.4 TC
  • Canon 2X Teleconverter

Other Equipment included:

  • Really Right Stuff TVC-24L 4 Section Tripod x 2
  • Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead x 2
  • Really Right Stuff Levelling Plate x 2
  • Really Right Stuff L Mount Camera Brackets for Canon 1DC, 1DX and 5D MK3 cameras
  • Really Right Stuff Lens Plates for 70-200 and 200-400mm lenses
  • Really Right Stuff MonoPod with RRS Ballhead
  • Miscellaneous Really Right Stuff Accessories including Multi-tool and universal clamps
  • Glide Cam
  • Miller Video Tripod and Fluid Head
  • Various Rode shotgun and lapel microphones
  • Audio Recording Devices
  • 15 Terrabytes of Hard Drives and numerous laptops and associated accessories.

Purchasing the Canon 600mm F4L IS Mark II Lens

Recently I decided to take the plunge, make the investment, and purchase Canon’s super telephoto 600mm F4L IS Mark II lens. I had been toying with the idea of purchasing this lens for almost six months and finally decided it was a necessary piece of equipment for several projects I am currently working on. Normally, I would not procrastinate for so long on the purchase of a new lens (who really needs a reason to purchase a wonderful lens anyway); but given the significant cost of ownership I needed to really map out my intended use to ensure I get the most from this expensive optic. I am not going to write an extensive review of this lens as quite frankly there are already many excellent reviews online. Suffice to say, the image quality from this lens is absolutely second to none in this class of telephoto. The MTF graphs alone tell the try story of just how sharp this lens really is. If you need to know anything particular about this lens then Google will certainly find it for you. Instead, I want to just briefly share my thought process on choosing this lens; what the alternatives were and why I decided it was worth jumping the cost barrier to entry.

Those of you familiar with my current shooting equipment might be asking yourself why I would purchase such an expensive lens when I already own the Canon 200-400mm F4L IS lens with inbuilt 1.4 teleconverter. The answer is really very simple – I simply want and need more reach. Although the 200-400 can reach 560mm on a  full frame camera such as the Canon 1DX with the 1.4 Teleconverter engaged; the 600mm is faster (F4 instead of F5.6) at the 560mm end of the 200-400 with 1.4 teleconverter, but more importantly, the 600mm F4 will reach in excess of 800mm with the addition of a 1.4 teleconverter for a max aperture of F5.6 (max focal length with 1.4TC on full frame is 840mm). This provides significantly more reach than the 200-400 lens. Thus the 600mm becomes a very good supplemental lens for subjects that are too far away for the 200-400.

At this extreme end of the telephoto range there are really three lenses to choose from in the Canon line-up if you want long reach and a fast aperture. The 500mm F4L IS MKII, the 600mm F4L IS MKII or the 800mm F5.6L IS lens. I do not include the rare Canon 1200mm F5.6 lens as this lens is no longer available new from Canon and it commands ridiculous amounts of money on the second hand market (in excess of $100,000 USD). It is also the size of a bazooka, has no Image Stabilisation, is extremely heavy and thus completely impractical for travel. There are also numerous 400mm options to choose from but none of these provide the reach I require. The 500mm falls well within the focal range of the 200-400 with inbuilt 1.4 teleconverter so was not really the ideal choice to supplement this lens; in effect it’s just doubling up on a focal length I already own. The 600mm F4L IS MKII lens offers more reach at a faster aperture than the 200-400 with its 1.4 teleconverter engaged. The 600mm F4 can equal the 800mm’s F5.6 aperture at 840mm with the addition of a 1.4 Teleconverter. The 600mm combined with the 1.4 and 2X teleconverters gives me options from 600mm, 840mm and 1200mm – more than enough for my intended use. In short, this makes the 600mm F4 the more versatile lens and a better choice for my intended use. If I were photographing small birds I may well have opted for the 800mm for the extra reach to get as many pixels on target as possible. Just an aside: Canon’s new MKIII 1.4 and 2X teleconverters are truly outstanding and I would have no hesitation using either of these with any of the Canon L series lenses. In fact the 1.4TC on Canon’s 70-200mm F2.8L IS MKII makes an excellent light weight ‘Birds in Flight’ lens for handheld shooting from ships.

One of the major considerations for me in purchasing the 600mm F4L lens (other than the cost) was how I am going to travel with it from my home base in Australia to Iceland, the Arctic and other polar destinations. Truthfully, I have not yet fully decided on wether I am going to schlep this lens through airports or pack it in a Pelican case and FEDEX it to my destination. At this point in time, I am leaning toward carrying it in my carry on luggage – although the bulky lens hood will ride in my checked luggage. It is going to be  tight squeeze with a 200-400 and 600mm f4 lens in my camera bag with camera bodies and supplemental lenses and equipment and I am expecting some spill over into a second bag (my Gura Gear Chobe bag). The addition of the 600m is going to put me way over the normal carry on luggage allowance; which is a bit of a worry and honestly I may yet opt for the FEDEX option. To date, however, I have not had issues (touch wood) with carry on camera equipment on any airline except Jet Star (with whom I will never fly again after they stranded me for 10 hours in Tasmania and refused me carry on in New Zealand back in 2008). In that vain, I did enjoy this image that incidentally turned up on Facebook a couple of days ago.Purchasing a lens like the Canon 600mm F4L IS is a significant financial investment and therefore it warrants serious consideration on its intended use before such a commitment. In my case, I plan to use this lens for a project I am working on to photograph Arctic Foxes in Iceland this winter (I expect this project to be ongoing over the next few years). This project will have it’s own dedicated micro-site that I am currently working on as well as the backing from the Arctic Fox Station, and several other sponsor parties. I will also take the lens to the Arctic with me (in addition to the 200-400) to photograph Polar Bears and Walrus on the Jewels of the Arctic trips in August this year. The first of these two expeditions is sold out and there are only three places remaining now on the second trip before it will also be sold out. If you want to get an idea of what this expedition entails be sure to watch the Polar Experience Video I produced late last year. I also intend to use this lens in the Arctic in 2015 on a dedicated expedition I am leading to photograph Polar Bears. I hope to officially open this trip for bookings in the next few weeks.

For the dedicated wildlife photographer the 600mm F4L IS Lens has long been the hoy grail of optics for capturing wildlife and I am looking forward to shooting with this lens over the coming years.

Solicitation for Payment to Promote Artists – Use Caution

Over the last few years I have been receiving sporadic emails inviting me to have my work published and / or displayed in some form of publication on a cost to the artist basis. These emails almost always begin with ‘You have been specifically chosen from amongst thousands of artists‘. These solicitation emails have historically utilised printed media such as magazines and quote ‘ Art Books’ as their publishing platform. The long and short of this approach should you be unfortunate to receive one of these email invitations is that the artist or photographer is approached (usually via email) with an offer to have their work published in a quote ‘respected’ book or magazine. The offer often goes into quite some detail about the ‘extensive’ circulation of the publication, the importance of being included and the exposure that comes from having ones work displayed in the publication. The artist / photographer is presented with a number of different offers that range from a single page of publication to multi-page spreads at a cost of usually $600-$900+ USD per page. There is usually significant embellishment by the seller on the number of galleries the publication is distributed to as well as the extensive number of art purchasers who subscribe to the publication. The entire package is then dressed up for sale and proffered as an exclusive opportunity to the artist / photographer. Most of these books that I have researched are in excess of 300 pages which gives an idea of just how many artists you would be competing with should you pay to have your work included. Some simple math indicates that even at the lower end of $600 per page these publishers are raking in around $180,000 USD in revenue (and many of them are upwards of $900 per page and well in excess of 300 pages). With book publishing being as cheap as it is today in China  you can bet that less than a quarter of that is being spent on the actual publication. It doesn’t require much thought as to where the rest of it ends up. I did some checking with galleries here in Australia as well as those in New York and other prime locations. Most had never heard of the short list of ‘Art books’ I had been approached by and those that had did not have kind things to say about them; suggesting quite bluntly they were a complete waste of money and that any artist who was seeking representation should contact them directly for folio appraisal.

I am going to refrain from naming some of these publications even though I have both direct and indirect experience with quite a few of them. You should be able to quickly recognise these publications for what they are in how they market and present themselves. These publications prey on the often fragile ego of the artist photographer hoping to be recognised and to stand out from the crowd. The sales pitch is designed to entice the artist to part with their money in exchange for having their work published and distributed to an often unknown network that is difficult to verify. There is almost never any offer of follow up after publication to verify the distribution or of offers to work with the artist who is usually seeking gallery representation. I know of one recent example whereby a good friend paid to have his work printed in what was supposedly a well respected magazine. Despite making his substantial payment in full no magazine has been published to date and all requests for a refund have gone unanswered. In this magazine’s defence I believe they did release a digital PDF version after complaints from many of the contributors (all of whom payed to be published). Who this was distributed to remains unknown and wether an actual magazine will ever be printed remains unlikely. Either way, my friend is unlikely to get value for his money and even less likely to get his money back.

My advice if you are considering paying to have your work published is that you look very closely at the distribution of the media you are considering being a part of. The very first thing you should do on receiving any email that offers you publication in exchange for money is to Google the publication and find what experience other artists have had in dealing with them. I guarantee you will find someone out there who has been approached and written about their experience to help others. Put zero credence in their own website testimonials unless they include a full name and email link to contact the artist to verify the quote. Testimonials without  a full name and email address for verification are worth less than the virtual paper they are printed on.

More recently I have started to receive solicitation emails that are utilising the Apple APP store as the publishing platform. The email offer entices the artist / photographer to have their very own app developed comprising of their work. The company making the offer will design and build the app on behalf of the photographer and take a heavy percentage of any sales on top of a substantial up front development fee. On the face of it this may seem a fair deal. However, you should be sure to read the fine print about who owns the copyright to displayed work and what you are really signing up for. If you are approached with such an offer I suggest exercising caution. Be sure to do your due diligence. Try and speak with photographers or artists who have  paid to to use the medium and find out what they really got out of it. There are many application development kits now on the market that require even less work than setting up a website and I recommend you look into these before you hand over potential profit from sales of your work to a third party. The last such offer I received turned out to be using nothing more than an Adobe application for single issue publication called Adobe DPS Single Edition. This easy to use tool can be used by anyone to create their own application without development costs above those from Adobe for the software and Apple for access to iTunes. You don’t even need to know how to write code.

There are of course many legitimate reasons to pay for publication of your work. Just be very clear in your mind what you are hoping to achieve by having your work published if you intend to pay for the privileage. If it is purely ego driven then perhaps paying to satisfy this need is justifiable. But, if you are paying to publish your work in the hopes of recognition or with a plan to increase your exposure and publicity then I would think very hard about it before you make a financial investment. You are likely to get far more benefit from publishing your own book (or e-book!), or contacting a gallery or agent directly than you will ever get from being included in a artists book that showcases the work of many artists. There are a myriad of options out there for artists who want to promote their work and increase their exposure. Many of them require no where near the upfront investment some publications are asking. There are many roads to recognition for the promotion of artists – consider your options carefully and ask yourself what you are really trying to achieve before you part with your hard earned money to promote your work.